Before I embark upon my (rather peculiar) reading of Whose Body?
, I thought I should sweep the floor and say some things about the series as a whole, because I won't remember to talk about them otherwise, and they kind of need to be said.
First, I have absolutely no idea how many times I've read these books. N is somewhere between 5 and infinity; since I didn't discover them until I was in graduate school, the cap is probably below 20, but it's definitely past the point where there's any use in counting. I mention this because it means that this series of posts will have spoilers indiscriminately for all the books in the series. If you haven't read Sayers ... if you haven't read Sayers, what are you doing reading this? Go! Find! Acquire! Devour!
Ahem. Anyway, spoilers will be endemic for all nine novels and however-many short stories it is, including "Talboys."
Also, this next bit, behind the cut tag, is going to have serious spoilers for Ngaio Marsh's Singing in the Shrouds
Class and race-based snobbery. Yes. All over the place. People talk about DLS's anti-Semitism, and, yes, it's there. But it's hardly the only thing modern readers can take offense at (the portrayal of Hallelujah Dawson in Unnatural Death
, the relentless mockery of Mr. Thipps and his h's ... I won't go on). Also, her anti-Semitism is not of a sort that obscures humanity. Nobody in Whose Body?
ever suggests that they should not catch the murderer merely because the victim is Jewish. Everything we learn about Sir Reuben Levy establishes him as a character whom we pity, whose death we regret, who loved and was loved. This is in sharp contradistinction to the homophobia of Singing in the Shrouds
(Marsh), where the murder of the inoffensive gay steward is treated as unimportant; the only thing that anyone cares about is that Mrs. Dillington-Blick (whom I personally quite dislike, although I can tell Marsh wants me to like her--or at least be indulgent toward her as one might be toward a spoiled but charming child) escaped. I like Singing in the Shrouds
as a mystery and for what she does with the closed world of the ship, but the cavalier dismissal of Dennis's death as Oh-thank-god-it-wasn't-her absolutely infuriates me. Sayers does descend to cheap stereotpying, but she does not erase the humanity behind it. Sir Reuben Levy's death MATTERS.
At least, that's how I read things.
I should also note that one of the principal things I'm interested in is the way in which Sayers engages with the genre of mystery fiction; I'll be talking about series detectives and tropes. This may make my discussion of the early books look a little strange.
My love for DLS is largely uncritical, but I do have to note one perennial problem, which is that she has absolutely no conception of which things are physically possible and which aren't. This is most woefully obvious in Murder Must Advertise
, but it also shows up in Clouds of Witness
: Peter's adventure in the bog takes place, please note, only a day or two after he's had his collarbone broken by Goyles. And in Whose Body?
, I noticed this charming little feat:
[Mr. Thipps] slipped outside, and he had no sooner done so than Lord Peter, lifting the body quickly and cautiously, turned it over and inspected it with his head on one side, bringing his monocle into play with the air of the late Joseph Chamberlain approving a rare orchid.
I love this image (the corpse as orchid), but this is a heavy corpse IN A BATHTUB. I don't think Peter could lift it quickly, and I certainly don't think he could turn it over as if it WERE an orchid. It's an extremely consistent blindspot (consider also the fact that Peter climbs through the bell chamber at the end of The Nine Tailors
and neither dies nor goes deaf), and having admitted its existence, I'm not planning to mention it again.
Right. Those are the general caveats. Whose Body?
is up next.
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body?
1923. New York: Avon Books, 1961.